We have been hosting Make Your Own Storybook walks since last January, and I keep being surprised at how much fun participants have, regardless of their age or ability. We have had grandparents, babes in arms, (well, backpack carriers), little ones who have not yet learned to read, and school age children as well. We have had adults of varying abilities, parents juggling several children, and my buddies who are visually impaired (or VIPs–Visually Impaired Person as they prefer to be referred to).
In the midst of all this variety, and having offered the program at different locations, I hadn’t quite realized the common theme; if there is a dead or dying fish on the scene, it’s going to end up in many if not most of the stories that are shared that day.
We headed over to the Upper Charles River watershed recently to join up with the elementary, middle school and high school aged students who participate in the Milford Youth Center’s after school activities. We got great support from their staff, who have a lot of experience getting the kids outside. But this was their first time offering our Make Your Own Storybook walk.” We partnered not only with the Milford Youth Center, but with Milford Community TV as well. Video editor Liz Harkins brought along an entire suite of equipment, and worked with the Youth Leadership kids to train them on the video equipment and she put them right to work filming our event. “You’re hitting the ground running,” Liz warned her trainees. They listened hard, paid attention, and remained cool and calm even when things went wrong, like when I disconnected my mic from the transponder. Did I mention that Liz is an amazing video editor as well?
The biggest challenge of the day for me was the temperature, which was in the high 80s, unseasonably warm for mid-May.
When you see the video, you may notice me looking somewhat sweaty. I used my spray bottle to keep me cooled down with water the entire walk. And thankfully, it mostly worked. Sometimes I do wonder what drives me…
The concept of these events is simple–take a walk, pay attention to what you see, hear, smell, feel, and observe in general, then come back and write about it. We threw in an extra challenge for the kids during this event and brought a supply of trash bags in case we found trash along the way that we could pick up. Only a few kids really got into that part of the program, but those who did were focused and determined. It was great to see their youthful energy concentrated on making their neighborhood better.
It was a short walk from the Youth Center on Pearl Street, almost directly across the street from Milford’s town hall, down to Granite Street, where we crossed the Upper Charles Trail and headed over to the pond, which is part of the Upper Charles River.
The small bridge we stood on is actually a dam, but it took the kids a while to figure out why the water levels on each side of the bridge were so different.
It may be I simply didn’t ask the right questions.
But it could also have been that a whole lot of energy was taken up with the dead fish on the bridge. Yup, if there is a dead fish in the neighborhood, it’s going to get top billing. I completely missed the significance at the time. But I will be better prepared when more dead fish work their way into our events. As it was, I had to track down a picture from other folks who had been more focused than me. But next time–I WILL get a picture of the fish….
It was fun watching the kids with the cameras to see what they were recording. Liz accompanied us and coached them the whole way, and it was intriguing to see how she worked with her trainees as well. Liz demonstrated how to place the camera inside the trash bag to get a shot of trash falling into the bag. Not as easy as it sounds.
I spotted another camera person absorbed in recording a blooming azalea. She got more excited when she realized there were ants crawling amongst the flowers and she kept filming the ants as they worked to offer some pollinating assistance.
Back at the Youth Center, we got kids inside sitting down at tables, and handed them paper, writing implements, and colored pencils. Many simply enjoyed creating scenes from our walk. A few made a simple story. And yes, the stories almost without exception included a fish.
Many thanks to everyone who worked hard to make this program possible. The kids were great, the Youth Center staff were terrific, and Liz and everyone at the Cable station in Milford went over and above to help make this happen. Till next time–happy trails!
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. Just out is her latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress. She is a co-author of the recent community history, Bellingham Now and Then